FEMA Corps First Year Shaped by Sandy

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Disaster Response and Recovery
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By: 
Greg Tucker

"In the month and a half my team was in New York, the progress I witnessed was absolutely incredible. Although we all were frequently exhausted by the various assignments we had been given each day, it truly makes it all worth it when you can step back and realize that you've played even a small part in such a huge recovery effort.” – FEMA Corps member Elizabeth McSherry. McSherry is part of disaster services history as one of first group of FEMA Corps members to experience the new program.

President Barack Obama poses with FEMA Corps members during a photo opportunity.

When the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agreed to form the FEMA Corps national service program, the agencies had no idea how quickly its new program would be put to the test. Or that the test would come in the form of Hurricane Sandy.

AmeriCorps members have a strong history of responding to natural and manmade disasters, so it was a no-brainer to create a program dedicated to this purpose. The AmeriCorps NCCC members serving with FEMA Corps receive training that allow them to gain practical experience serving in the national emergency response network when disasters strike.

FEMA Corps members spend their 10-month terms focusing on disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery activities. They provide support in areas ranging from working directly with disaster survivors to supporting disaster recovering centers to sharing valuable disaster preparedness and mitigation information with the public.

During Hurricane Sandy operations, FEMA Corps members made their presence felt right away. Here are a few things we learned about FEMA Corps from its first year:

FEMA Corps member Kenzie Spears registers Hurricane Sandy survivor Francisco Ibaceta at the Union Beach Disaster Recovery Center in Union Beach, NJ, on Nov. 6, 2012. At a Disaster Recovery Center, Hurricane Sandy survivors can apply for assistance with FEMA and receive information on other forms of assistance that may be available. (FEMA photo by Liz Roll)Ready and Willing: The first class of FEMA Corps teams was working on the Hurricane Isaac response before being dispatched to help with Hurricane Sandy days after the storm struck the northeast. Teams on the ground in New York and New Jersey provided direct assistance to disaster survivors by working at Disaster Recovery Centers and going door-to-door in impacted neighborhoods providing disaster information.

Through mid-July, FEMA Corps teams provided 419,207 hours of Hurricane Sandy assistance. (Other AmeriCorps NCCC teams served an additional 108,972 hours related to the storm.) Examples of projects included connecting community members to local resources, developing resource guides to improve coordination efforts, registering hurricane victims at local shelters, and supporting numerous volunteer facilities.

Spreading the Word: FEMA Corps members helped educate the communities affected by Sandy by distributing more than 19,000 pieces of educational materials and preparedness kits. Additionally, members led FEMA for Kids programs in 21 schools across New Jersey to promote disaster awareness and helped develop the FEMA Connect program to reach high school audiences.

Thinking Outside the Box: FEMA Corps Team Leader Ben Barron helped develop an initiative that used laptops and iPads to improve aid tracking and register storm survivors for disaster assistance. By embracing mobile technology, FEMA workers were able to make the disaster response process more efficient while maintaining face-to-face interactions.  Barron discussed the initiative during a FEMA Think Tank on innovation in emergency management at the White House earlier this year.

They Said It: “These FEMA Corps members have made a real difference in FEMA's disaster response and recovery efforts.  They have brought incredible energy and enthusiasm for community service, directly impacting the lives of disaster survivors and paving a path for future FEMA Corps teams."  – FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino.

Better Together: FEMA Corps couldn’t have achieved any level of success without the cooperation between CNCS and FEMA that made it possible. The program’s success is a model of interagency collaboration President Obama referenced when he established the Task Force on Expanding National Service led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz and CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer. CNCS hopes to expand models like this one to encourage more use of national service to solve our country’s toughest challenges.

 

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